The Cruelty and Fairness of Fate

by Crawlspace

 

~ Chapter 18 ~

  ~ Ami and Mako-chan’s Moving Day, Part 1 ~

 

 

            After a pop of static and some snow, the video tape began to play.  The small screen on the camcorder showed a still shot of a neatly kept desk with a teddy bear sitting on its edge.  The wooden chair that matched the desk was turned to face the camera, a cardboard sign propped on the seat.  Written on the sign in purple and pink marker, the letters surrounded by yellow flowers, were the words, ‘Ami and Mako-chan’s Moving Day.’

 

            For five seconds, the camera focused on the sign.  Then Hotaru came into view and quickly moved the sign off the seat, sitting herself down in front of the camera.  “Today is the day my friends Ami and Mako-chan are moving into their new apartment.  We’re all going over to help them.”  She paused for a moment to reach behind her and take a photograph off her desk.  Holding it up, she continued, “This is what my family looked like when we moved into our house.  We weren’t friends with the others like we are now, so it’s just got the four of us in the picture.  I’m going to take a new picture with the camera Setsuna-mama gave me when we get to Mako-chan’s new home.  That way, I’ll have a now picture to go with my before one.”

 

            The camera watched Hotaru replace the photo and then get up and move out of view.  A second later, the camera was turned off.  When it came back on, the setting had changed to the kitchen.

 

            Setsuna was seated at the table, a terry robe over her pajamas and a cup of coffee in front of her.  Being the first awake, she was taking advantage of first look at the morning paper.  Without looking up from what she was reading, Setsuna asked, “Is that really necessary, Hotaru?  It’s just a cup of coffee.”

 

            “Chibi-usa said today was going to be a big day.  I don’t want to miss anything.”

 

            This got Setsuna’s interest enough for her to look up from her paper.  “She told you that, did she?” said Setsuna into the lens, though it was directed at the girl behind the camera rather than the camera itself.  “Did she tell you anything else?”

 

            “No,” answered Hotaru.  “She only said I should be sure to remember to bring my camcorder.”  The focus then shifted off of Setsuna and scanned quickly around the room before landing back on its original target.  “Where’s Michiru-mama and Haruka-papa?  They’re gonna miss breakfast.  You are still going to make pancakes, aren’t you?”

 

            “Yes, I’m still going to,” answered Setsuna.  A quiet smile appeared on her face.  “Haruka and Michiru had a late night, so they’re sleeping in this morning.  However, I suppose they’ve had enough sleep.  Why don’t you go knock on their door and see if they’re ready to wake up.”

 

            With a minimum of movement, the camera was again clicked off.  When it came back on this time, there was a jostle of picture as it was set down on something in the hallway.  Hotaru knelt down in front of it, a bedroom door behind her.

 

            “They’re being lazy today,” she said quietly.  “If they don’t get up soon, they’re gonna miss Setsuna-mama’s pancakes.  And she makes the best pancakes ever.  Michiru-mama:  French toast.  Haruka-papa:  Omelets.  Setsuna-mama:  Banana pancakes.  And she doesn’t make them often, so today is special just because of that.”

 

            “Hotaru, who are you talking to?” asked Haruka.  She had appeared behind Hotaru in the bedroom doorway dressed in a t-shirt and boxers, her hair poking out in every which direction.  She yawned and squinted into the camera lens.

 

            Hotaru stood, her back temporarily blocking the lens.  “Setsuna-mama says it’s time for breakfast.”

 

            “Oh.  Okay.  We’ll be down in a few minutes,” replied Haruka.  Then that killer grin of hers began to form and break through the morning cloud covering her features.  “Except your Michiru-mama seems to be having a hard time waking up.”

 

            “I can get her up!” exclaimed Hotaru excitedly just before she ran into the bedroom.

 

            Haruka walked closer to the camera, leaning down so her face took up the entirety of the frame.  She nodded, then picked up the camcorder and followed her daughter into the room.

 

            A soft chuckle from the racer was picked up on the microphone as the camera came to bear on Michiru and Hotaru.  Michiru was the same as Haruka had left her, lying on her stomach with the comforter pulled halfway up her bare back.  Her eyes were closed, her face turned towards the edge of the bed and resting comfortably on her pillow.  The slight tension in her body seemed to indicate she was doing everything she could to remain asleep and comfortable as her child poked her repeatedly in the shoulder.

 

            “Michiru-mama,” whispered Hotaru loudly against Michiru’s ear.  “Setsuna-mama’s making pancakes.  You have to get up now.  Michiru-mama.”  Hotaru frowned at the lack of response.  Then she reached forward and lifted Michiru’s eyelid with one, small finger and stared intently into the forced open eye.

 

            At that point, Michiru couldn’t fight it anymore.  She made an undignified sound that was a cross between a grunt and a sigh.  Moving her head away from Hotaru’s fingers, she started to roll over, remembering belatedly her state of undress.  Landing quickly back on her stomach, Michiru grabbed the edge of the comforter and pulled it up closer to her so she could move.

 

            “Morning Michiru-mama,” said Hotaru brightly when her mama finally sat up.

 

            Eyes still puffy from sleep and hair slightly askew and flat against one side of her head, Michiru blinked several times at the girl in front of her.  “Good morning, Hotaru,” she said sleepily.  “You were saying something about pancakes?”

 

            Hotaru nodded.

 

            Haruka’s laugh could be heard right then as she said from behind the camera, “Good morning, Sunshine.”

 

            The last thing the camera saw in that room was the pillow Michiru sent sailing towards it.

 

            A tap on her open door made Hotaru look up from the viewscreen on her camcorder where she had been watching the tape from earlier that morning.

 

            “Time to go, Hotaru,” said Haruka.  “Do you have everything you want to bring with you?”

 

            Climbing off her bed with her camcorder, Hotaru answered, “Yes.  My bag’s downstairs with my camera and extra battery in it.”

 

            “All right, then.  Let’s get going.  Race ya downstairs,” said Haruka with a mischievous grin.

 

            Hotaru laughed.  “We’re not allowed to run in the house, remember?  Besides, nobody can beat you, Haruka-papa.  You’re the wind.”

 

 

*            *            *

 

            At just after eleven, everyone but Usagi and Chibi-usa had arrived at Makoto’s.  Ami’s mom had called Ami’s cell phone to tell her she was on the way over, and with that, everything had started moving forward.

 

            “Watch out, Hotaru,” said Haruka as she sidestepped around the little girl and her video camera on her way up the stairs.  She set the box she was carrying beside the apartment door, then called down, “We need to get something to prop this door open with.  It isn’t holding on its own.”

 

            “Did you catch that, Minako?” called Rei as she headed after Haruka with another box.

 

            “Yeah,” answered Minako.  “Hold on a sec, and I’ll see what Mako-chan has.”  She took a second to smile and pose for Hotaru’s camera, then headed inside with the girl trailing after her.

 

            Passing Michiru and a set of houseplants, Minako grinned as she heard Makoto complain, “They’re plants.  I can carry my plants.”

 

            “Not up those stairs, you can’t,” called back Michiru calmly without stopping.

 

            “It’s a conspiracy, and I bet I know who’s behind it,” muttered Makoto.

 

            “And I’m sure everyone’s out to get you, too,” said Ami as she came up behind Makoto carrying a lamp and a duffle bag.

 

            “So says the ringleader,” huffed Makoto.  “You’ve even got your mom in on it.  Don’t think I didn’t notice what she was sitting on yesterday.”

 

            Color tinted Ami’s cheeks at the knowledge she’d been caught on that one.  “Since you didn’t say anything, I thought you hadn’t realized it.  But Mom doesn’t know it’s yours.  If I’d known she had taken the stepstool out of the utility closet where I’d hidden it, I would have been more careful about letting you up in the attic.”

 

            “Sure you would have,” answered Makoto, looking more amused than she had a moment ago.

 

            “Hey, Mako-chan,” interrupted Minako, providing Ami with a chance to escape, “Haruka needs something to prop the door open with upstairs.”

 

            “Everything’s in boxes,” replied Makoto.  She thought for a second, then asked, “What about one of my school shoes?  They’re over by the door.”  Then, just as Minako turned to look for one, she remembered, “No, they’re not.  I put them in my bag when we got home yesterday.  Ami just left with them.”

 

            “I’ll catch her,” said Minako, taking off after her blue haired friend.

 

            Makoto was about to follow when she was stopped by Hotaru.  “Hi, Mako-chan,” said the little girl, her camera lens directed at Makoto.

 

            Makoto smiled down at the girl.  “Hi again, Hotaru.  Are you finding some interesting things to get pictures of?”

            “Yes,” answered Hotaru.  “You sure do have a lot of people here today.  Wonder why they all came over?”

 

            “Everybody came to help me and Ami move into our new apartment,” answered Makoto, happily indulging the child.  “That was really nice of them to do.  We really appreciate it.”

 

            “You got a new apartment, huh.  Why’d you do that?”

 

            Through a wide smile, Makoto gave the answer she knew Hotaru wanted.  “Because we’re having a baby, and we needed more room.”

 

            Hotaru’s smile matched Makoto’s as she focused her camera on Makoto’s middle.  “Hi baby,” she said with a giggle.

 

            “He says ‘hi’ back.  Come on, let’s go see if they caught Ami and my shoes.”

 

 

            “Which bedroom is yours?” asked Rei.  She stood looking between the two doors in the hall of the third floor apartment, wondering which room she was supposed to leave the box in.

 

            “The first one,” answered Ami.  Following Rei into the room, she set down the lamp and bag.

 

            Taking advantage of the moment alone, Rei began to prod gently for information on how last night had gone.  She meant only to tease a bit, as a lead in to brag about her own Valentine’s Day, but when Ami didn’t immediately go red with that happy grin on her face the way she had taken to lately, Rei felt equal stabs of guilt and concern.

 

            “We had a good night,” said Ami, her words chosen carefully.  “But it wasn’t exactly the way we’d planned.  It was just a small argument,” she added at Rei’s concerned look.  “We got through it all right, and it isn’t anything that won’t work itself out with a little bit of time.  I wonder if it all would have been a bit easier if we’d had a little more time for everything?

 

            Rei chuffed.  “If you two had taken any more time, we’d be standing in the middle of Crystal Tokyo right now.”  Then the smirk she wore softened.  “Everything’s really okay?”

 

            Ami nodded.  “It is.”

 

            Rei smiled, but before she could launch into her own tale, a shout came from the livingroom.

 

            “Hey, Ami, your mom’s here!  And Mako-chan says to give Haruka her shoes to use as a doorstop.”

 

 

            Going outside with the intent of following Minako upstairs, Makoto stopped and looked out over the walkway railing when she noticed the SUV with a small trailer hitched to the back of it.  Ami’s mom stood beside it, talking to someone who was behind the trailer, presumably opening it, and obscured from Makoto’s sight.  Kaya paused in her talking and looked up, waving when she saw Makoto on the walkway.

 

            Makoto waved back, then called up the stairs to Setsuna, “Could you tell Ami her mom’s… here…”  Her voice trailed off and her eyes narrowed as if that would somehow change the visage of the person who had come around from behind the trailer.

 

            Appearing beside Setsuna at the top of the stairs, Ami replied as she started down, “Minako already told me.”  When she reached the bottom and saw the look on Makoto’s face, she asked, “What is it?”

 

            Makoto pointed over the railing.  “Saatchi-san?  He’s the friend your mother was talking about?”

 

            “Hmm?”  Ami looked to where Makoto was pointing.  Her features grew worried, aware that this might be something of a sore spot for Makoto.  “Well,” she said hesitantly, “my mom never said specifically who she was bringing, and I don’t really know any of the people she’s social with.  And we did know they were acquainted.  I suppose it makes sense that they would be friends.”

 

 

            Haruka jammed Makoto’s shoe against the bottom of the door, then gave a light, experimental tug to make sure it would stay in place.  A quick nod of approval, and she said to Minako, “Okay, it’s holding.  Now let’s go get that coffee table.”

 

            Haruka made it past the small group of Makoto, Ami, and Hotaru without a problem.  Minako, however, was distracted by not only the camera, but what also seemed to be an interesting conversation.  She sidled up to the girls and looked over Ami’s shoulder into the parking lot.

 

            With a smile of approval for Ami’s mom’s tastes, Minako said, “You know, Ami, your mom’s boyfriend is kind of cute for an old guy.”

 

            Minako wouldn’t have thought it possible for Ami to go any paler than she already was, and yet that was exactly what happened.  Ami’s eyes got wide as her head shook slightly in the negative.  “No, he isn’t.  He isn’t, he’s…”

 

            “My obstetrician,” interrupted Makoto.  Then to Ami, “He’s her boyfriend?”

 

            “No!  She said he was a friend.  That’s all.”

 

            Sensing now would be a good time to remove herself, Minako backed away and pointed over her shoulder.  “I’m, uh, gonna go help Haruka.  Hotaru, you come with me.”  Then she grabbed Hotaru and skittered quickly towards the door.

 

            “What’s going on out there?” asked Haruka as Minako entered the apartment.

 

            A quick look down to make sure Hotaru wasn’t filming, and Minako answered, “Ami’s mom is dating Makoto’s obstetrician.”

 

            Haruka’s eyebrows went up in surprise.  “Bet that makes for interesting dinner conversation.”

 

            “Haruka,” scolded Michiru from across the room.

 

            “What?” asked Haruka innocently.

 

            “Wait, there’s more,” said Minako at her conspiratorially, gossipy best.  “Ami doesn’t know it.  Or she didn’t.”

 

            This confused Haruka.  “If Ami doesn’t know, then how do you?”

 

            “Isn’t it obvious?” answered Minako.  “Why else would he be here helping?  He’s trying to impress the mother by winning points with the daughter.  Besides, they look cute together,” she added with a grin.

 

            “Perhaps we should go down and help them with Ami’s things,” suggested Michiru.

 

            “Good idea,” said Haruka.  “Then we can get our gossip first hand.”

 

            The effect of Michiru’s disapproval was completely ruined by the small smile she wore on her face.

 

 

            Things were getting a bit awkward, thought Makoto as she stood there beside Ami.  She knew they should be going down to greet Ami’s mother, but she thought Ami should be the one to do it, and she wasn’t moving at all.  Instead, Ami was standing and staring at the people in the parking lot, her lips moving just the tiniest bit.  Whether she was talking to herself or attempting to say something out loud, Makoto wasn’t sure.

 

            “Ami…” started Makoto.

 

            “Do you think Minako’s right?” asked Ami quietly.

 

            Makoto shrugged, feeling a bit helpless and uncertain in how she was supposed to answer this.  “You know how Minako is,” she finally settled on.  “If your mom had shown up with Saatchi-san’s nurse, she would have had them set up as a couple for no other reason than she has a cute haircut.  Besides, just because he’s a guy it doesn’t mean they’re a couple.  For a long time my best friend was a guy, and nothing happened between us.”

 

            That seemed to appease Ami somewhat, and she smiled.  “You’re right, Mako-chan.  Anyway, Mom would have told me if she was seeing someone.  It’s not likely she would be, in any case.  Not with the schedule she keeps.”

 

 

            “Wonder who that is with Ami’s mom?” said Rei as she leaned over the 3rd floor railing.

 

            “There’s a simple way to find out,” replied Setsuna.

 

            Rei grinned.  “We should help get Ami’s things up here, shouldn’t we?”

 

            “It looks like we might have a bit more help arriving, as well,” said Setsuna, indicating the car that was pulling into the parking lot.

 

            “About time she got here.  I knew we should have told Usagi to be here an hour before the rest of us were going to be.”

 

            Setsuna smiled.  “She isn’t quite that late.”

 

 

            Makoto followed Ami down the steps, her slower progress only partly by choice.  Ami was already hugging her mother when Makoto had only made it halfway down.  She watched the man with them, all of this feeling a bit strange.  She told herself he wouldn’t be here if he had any issues with it, and while it was possible that Ami’s mom hadn’t told him the particulars of her daughter’s relationship, he could easily figure it out on his own.  The simple fact that they hadn’t brought Ami’s bed should be enough of a tip off.

 

            Makoto relaxed a bit as Ami politely greeted Saatchi-san and he returned it.  She couldn’t hold in the soft chuckle that formed when she saw the grin Kaya rewarded him with for the way he gave his greeting.  Maybe Minako was right after all.  If she was, things had gotten just that much stranger.

 

            Before she’d made it to the bottom step, a little purple blur ran past her with a squeal of “Chibi-usa!”  Michiru and Haruka were coming down behind her, following at a more leisurely pace.

 

            “The next time you move, Mako-chan,” said Haruka as the three went down the rest of the way together, “make sure it’s someplace with elevators.”

 

 

            Chibi-usa opened the car door, and Luna and Artemis jumped out ahead of her.  Luna stretched her paws out in front of her as Artemis made his way over to Minako and Rei, who, along with Setsuna, had joined the others in the parking lot.

 

            Chibi-usa’s eyes were tired and half closed when she climbed out of the back seat.  Away from the shelter of the car, the girl shivered and huddled into her coat as a cold gust of wind hit her.  Then she heard Hotaru’s voice call her name, and she perked up considerably as she saw her friend hurrying over to her.

 

 

            Slowly opening the passenger side door, Usagi pulled herself out of the car.  She squinted against the early afternoon sunshine and shivered from the same chilly air that had hit Chibi-usa.  But before she could pull her jacket tighter or hide her gloved hands in her pockets, a box was thrust in front of her.

 

            “Don’t forget this,” said her mother as she held the cake box across the seat for Usagi to take.  “Your father should be home in a few hours.  Don’t hurt yourself trying to lift heavy things.  If there’s something you girls need help with, call home and I’ll send your father over with Shingo.”

 

            “All right, Mom,” answered Usagi as she took the cake and moved away from the car.

 

            With a wave, Ikuko left her girls to their friends and headed back home.

 

 

            Minako picked up Artemis and moved off to the side with him alone.  When they were around the corner of the building and certain no one could see them, Minako set him down on a stone plant box so he was closer to her height.

 

            “Rei got me a really great present for Valentine’s Day,” said Minako as she reached behind her neck and undid the chain she wore.

 

            Artemis reached out a paw to pull the dangling ring a bit closer.  He noted the weight and color of the gold, as well as the fine detail of the etching around the outside, and concluded that this was no inexpensive trinket.  When he saw the inscription on the inside, his whiskers twitched.  Then Minako moved the chain away from him and removed the ring to slip on her left ring finger, and Artemis knew the band had been given as more than a simple Valentine’s gift.

 

            “Mina?”

 

            “It was just the two of us, Artemis,” said Minako quietly so no one would hear and come to investigate.  “There isn’t anything that could have made it more special or perfect.  The only thing I don’t like is that she caught me completely off guard.  I had no idea, so I didn’t have a ring to give her.  She was acting pretty smug about it all, too.”  A devious grin formed from the smile Minako was wearing.  “And I’m not quite done getting her back for it either.”

 

            “I know that look,” said Artemis warily.  “Mina, whatever it is you’re thinking, don’t you dare.”

 

            Minako ignored him, a self amused chuckle slowly emerging from her lips.

 

 

            Haruka bowed and introduced herself to Ken.

 

            “Tenoh-san, it’s an honor,” replied Ken to Haruka’s greeting.  “I’ve always been a fan of motor racing in all forms.  My son inherited the interest and took it up as a hobby.  You actually raced him once back when he dabbled on the junior circuit.”  Ken decided to leave out the part about how it had been a blow to the boy’s ego when he found out some years later he’d been repeatedly beaten by a girl.  Or how astounded Ken himself had been to find out Kaya’s daughter was friends with the famous racer, and Kaya acted as if it was just some everyday little thing.

 

            Ego sufficiently boosted, Haruka moved to help unload the trailer.  She stood as things were handed out to her and set them off to the side for the other volunteers to start carrying upstairs.  After a few boxes were passed down, part of a piece of furniture was lifted down to her.  “You really came prepared, didn’t you,” she said to Ami, who stood nearby, when she recognized what she was being handed as the side to a crib.

 

            “Mom saved my old crib,” answered Ami.  “We saw it when we were up in the attic yesterday, and she said we could have it if we wanted.”

 

            “I’ve never been quite sure why I saved it,” added Kaya.  “Ami was the first to use it, and I never intended to have any more children after her.  Something in me just hated the idea of giving it away.”

 

            “It’s a mom thing,” said Makoto.  “Mine never got rid of mine, either.  I lost it in the first move, though.  The place I was going to had less space than the one I was leaving, and I was more concerned with them trying to take away my basketball hoop than I was with some old baby bed.  A ten-year-old’s priorities,” she said with a shrug.

 

            “Wow.  This is cute,” said Haruka as the headboard piece was passed off the trailer.

 

            On the panel of light wood, a grassy hillside had been painted under a star filled sky.  On the hill, a flock of sheep lay sleeping.  However, there was one little sheep who sat awake at the top of the hill, just slightly apart from the others, staring up at the stars.

 

            “Ami’s father,” said Kaya.  “If you like that, you should have seen what he did to the rest of her room.  There wasn’t a square inch of wall or ceiling left uncovered by the time she was born.  The landlord had a fit when we moved out.  Suffice to say, we didn’t get the security deposit back.”

 

            Ami smiled to herself at the vague memory of that room.  The best way she could think to describe it was as if her father had taken every fairytale book she would own as a child and drawn those pages on her walls so she was living inside her own storybook.  She had been sad to leave it behind, and she felt that same little twinge knowing whoever lived there now had likely painted over it.  She looked fondly at what was left of that room, glad to have this last remaining piece.  She was glad, also, to have the memory she thought went with it.  For though it had been her papa’s painting, it was mother’s arms she remembered holding her when she couldn’t sleep and her mother’s soft, singsong voice she remembered whispering, “The little sheep who couldn’t sleep, so she sat up and counted stars.”

 

           

            Blinking sleepily, for to her it was still too early to be working this hard, Usagi held the cake box out to Makoto.  “My mom made you a cake.  She says to wish you much luck and happiness in your new home.”

 

            With a smile, Makoto took the box from Usagi.  “I’ll call her and thank her later tonight.  I love your mom’s cakes, especially the lemon ones,” she said as she opened the lid to see what was inside.

 

            Usagi nodded vigorously in agreement, her mother’s baking being a subject that was near and dear to her heart.

 

            Makoto laughed lightly at both her friend and what she found in the box.  It was indeed a lemon cake.  Normally, there would have been seven strawberries decorating the top – six along the edge and one in the middle.  The middle one, however, was missing, its absence made even more noticeable by the empty well of icing it had been sitting in.  And when she looked closely, there were the smallest traces of an errant finger swipe along the side.

 

            “What have we got here?” asked Minako as she came up and stood on tiptoe to peer over Makoto’s shoulder.

 

            “Usagi’s mom made us a cake,” answered Makoto.  “But it looks like a little mouse got to it first.”

 

            Minako chuckled and moved around to drape her arm over Usagi’s shoulders.  “More like a little rabbit, right, Usagi?” she asked cheerily.

 

            Usagi didn’t answer, her attention instead focused on the hand that was being casually waved around in front of her face.  The gold around Minako’s finger glinted in the sunlight, holding Usagi’s attention for several seconds before she grabbed Minako’s wrist to hold her still.  Usagi’s eyes crossed as she stared at the hand in front of her before they went wide and her mouth dropped open.

 

            With a gasp, Usagi cried, “Oh my gosh!  You got married!”  Then, holding Minako’s hand up for everyone who was staring at them to see, she declared, “They got married!”

 

            Minako stood grinning ear to ear.  Makoto almost dropped the cake she was holding.  Haruka, having turned her head so quickly that she pulled a muscle, winced and did drop the box she had just picked up.  Setsuna and Michiru, the latter of which was hiding a giggle behind one delicate hand, had turned to look at Rei.  Rei, for her part, looked almost as surprised as everyone else.

 

            Chibi-usa, who had heard this story so many times she could recite it in her sleep, leaned over and whispered to Hotaru, “I told you today was going to be a big day.  Just wait til you hear how it all happened.”

 

            Hotaru only nodded, her concentration now on her camera and her subjects.  This was going to be a very good picture, and she promised herself to find a way to thank her friend for making sure she remembered to bring her video camera.

 

            Watching and feeling like she was on the far outside of things, Kaya was more than a little confused.  For the life of her, she couldn’t figure out why a 17-year-old would run off and get married without telling any of her closest friends about it first.  The first thought that popped into her head was unwelcome, but she couldn’t help wondering if perhaps they were going to be needing another crib.  Then she noticed Setsuna bow to and congratulate a now blushing Rei, and the pieces very quickly fell into place.

 

            “Ami?” asked Kaya softly.  “Are Rei and Minako…

 

            Ami nodded, seeing no reason in trying to keep her friends’ secret any longer.

 

            Kaya nodded back in response.  After everything that had happened recently, she wondered why she’d felt any surprise at all.  She took a deep breath, finally coming to smile for the pretty, young blonde who was beaming as she recounted the events of her ‘wedding.’  And once again the definition of ‘normal life’ in her daughter’s world shifted and pulled her along for the ride.

 

 

            Hotaru held her camera steady on Minako as she spoke.  Usagi was still holding on to Minako’s hand, watching the girl with stars in her eyes.  Then Minako got to the part about the inscription and what Rei had told her it meant.  Usagi sighed dramatically and exclaimed how romantic it all was.

 

            The camera then moved over to Rei.  She looked a bit embarrassed, her cheeks tinged pink.  But it wasn’t the bad kind of embarrassed, Hotaru noted.  It was the kind of embarrassed you got when you were proud of yourself for something and wanted people to know about it, but they were paying just a bit too much attention to you for it.

 

            Haruka patted Rei on the back by way of showing her admiration, and Hotaru grinned at the way the corner of Rei’s mouth turned up at the same time her cheeks took on more color.  Rei waved her hand in an ‘of course’ sort of gesture and said something Hotaru couldn’t hear.

 

            Hotaru panned her camera back over to Minako and Usagi, getting everyone in the shot along the way.  The two blondes were practically jumping up and down in giddy, teenage excitement when the battery light on the video camera started to blink.

 

            “I’ll be right back,” said Hotaru to Chibi-usa before she hurried over to Haruka.  “Haruka-papa, my battery’s dying.  I need to get the other one out of the car.”

 

            “Okay,” said Haruka as she fished her keys out of her pocket.  “Be careful.”

 

            “I will,” answered Hotaru over her shoulder as she ran off.

 

            She had just put the key into the lock when Hotaru noticed the man across the street.  His car was dark and partially obscured by the bushes around the apartment complex.  She probably wouldn’t have noticed him at all if he hadn’t had that really cool looking camera.

 

            Hotaru raised her hand to wave, but stopped herself short.  The man was obviously in the middle of a shot, and Hotaru knew how annoying it could be when someone messed up a good picture.  Judging from where he was aiming, he was taking pictures of all of them in the parking lot.  It made Hotaru happy to think that someone else thought her family was special enough for their pictures.  So, as a way of offering a like kindness to a kindred spirit, Hotaru raised her camera and hit the record button.